The volcanic eruptions in Hawaii have triggered a groundswell of people displaced from their homes. Destruction is absolute wherever the lava flows.
Cosette Bonjour is no stranger to loss in her life. And as the lava inched closer to her house by the day, she was determined to salvage what few precious heirlooms she could from her home.
Bonjour has experienced her fair share of tribulations during her life.
Bonjour, 65, was lived in an idyllic home perched close enough to the water that majestic whale sightings were a frequent occurrence. But her life hadn’t always been paradise.
Bonjour was twice married, with each marriage ending due to her partner’s untimely passing. She also survived a battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma cancer.
She built her home with her second husband in 2001, and it became a respite away from the world’s woes. Even when lava fissures opened up on May 3, she didn’t think her home would be threatened.
“It never entered my mind that I would lose (the house),” she said to the Star Adviser. “Like a lot of people, my late husband and I thought Green Mountain would protect us. We didn’t think lava would come here in our lifetime.”
The Hawaii island painter was in Seattle recovering from foot surgery when the lava first started spewing. When it became clear that her home was in danger, she booked a flight back to the island.
Bonjour was met with a number of obstacles while trying to return to her home.
When Bonjour arrived on the island, she found her neighborhood deserted. Her neighbors had already been evacuated, and there was no clear path to access her home.
“When I got to the Hilo airport on Friday (June 1), my neighbors had already been evacuated. I tried to drive into the neighborhood but was turned away,” Bonjour said.
The following day, she was able to get closer to her house but was ultimately turned away again.
“We saw 25-foot-high lava about 150 feet away. It was a few miles from our homes, but officials didn’t think we had time to make it. If it had crossed the road, we wouldn’t have been able to make it back,” Bonjour said.
She even tried to make it back to her property by boat, but the waves were too high to make the journey tenable. Not yet defeated, Hawaii island photographer Bruce Omori put her in contact with Paradise Helicopters.
One of the pilots at the company had previously flown for the military and was touched by the woman’s story of triumph. He agreed to make the flight, and after getting through some red tape, the mission was approved.
Bonjour, and helicopter pilot Rob Mitchell flew to the woman’s home.
The flight conditions weren’t ideal, and predetermined landing spots for the helicopter were quickly ruled out because of hazardous environment. But Mitchell, an experienced pilot, wasn’t deterred.
“Most people in the area had time to evacuate, but she had been on the mainland and was just coming off a medical procedure. My heart was bleeding for her,” Mitchell said.
Neither Mitchell nor Bonjour was frightened of the danger of their mission. Bonjour said she was focused, and with only 25 minutes to grab her most precious belongings, focused on the task at hand.
“It was quite an adventure but I wasn’t scared. I was determined,” she said. “I knew I would never have closure if I couldn’t return to my home one last time.”
Everyone escaped the island safely, Bonjour with her treasured items in hand.
The suddenly displaced woman would find her home demolished by Mother Nature only two days later.
“We had made it in at exactly the 11th hour. We couldn’t have made it in any later,” she said.
She is still unsure of what her next step is, and is yet to decide if she will find another home on the island, or return to the mainland and settle in Portland, Oregon.
Regardless of what she decides, she is keeping a positive outlook, and knows everything will work out for the best.
“I know from other times in my life that everything eventually works out. As I go on, I trust that things will get better. I’m an optimist.”